Facebook Friends an "Underdog," Microsoft

Think it's a far-fetched marketing ploy to position Microsoft and its Bing search engine as the scrappy startup nipping at Google's heels? It wouldn't be the first time someone called Bill Gates's former company "Underdog."

Zuckerberg versus Eric Schmidt

At Microsoft's Silicon Valley campus yesterday, Microsoft search engine Bing announced a new partnership with Facebook. But the real question tech-nerds are going to be discussing around the iPad-powered watercooler is why Facebook isn't teaming with Google. Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg may have offered a clue when he said:

They [Microsoft] really are the underdog here. They’re incentivized to go out and innovate. When you’re an incumbent in an area … there is tension between innovating and trying new things versus what you already have.

So Zuck thinks Google, the incumbent in search, has become too devoted to its market share to innovate. Google did just radically reinvent itself with Instant, of course. But the Facebook chief is framing the search war as if it is David vs. Goliath (and as if Microsoft, the 800-lb. gorilla in any technology arena it enters, were actually David). He applauds the Bing team for being "really scrappy," and explains that Facebook often prefers to work with similar "underdog" companies such as Zynga.

This, not coincidentally, is exactly the line Microsoft has been taking. Google, says the software giant to anyone who will listen, is exactly where Microsoft was in the 1990s. It's already very big and about to become very bad. "They're in this honeymoon phase of, Google can do anything at all times," Bill Gates complained in 2006. "If it was rumored they were doing pizza, you'd think it was going to be zero calories and free."

Still, Zuckerberg has a point. Though still a corporate giant, Microsoft has experienced a series of flubs (see just about any story on Vista), and has lived in the shadow of more popular companies such as Google and Apple for years. Just look at how the companies have been reshuffled, from a recent Pew Center report based on news coverage:

So does Zuckerberg's endorsement mean Microsoft has finally shed its negative image? Has Google, with its many privacy issues and stance on Net neutrality, become the new corporate behemoth? Is Microsoft now the underdog?

With just 11% control of the search market, Bing clearly wants to convey that message. And if you think Zuckerberg's choice of words was a coincidence, consider what Microsoft originally code-named its Internet search engine project back in 2005.

They called it Underdog.

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